Star Wars: Squadrons is enjoyable thanks to solid presentation and exhilarating flight combat mechanics, but Motive Studios has failed to utilize these systems in compelling ways. Not only is the multiplayer experience severely lacking content, but the game’s campaign is slow and occasionally exhausting.
Even then, I must admit that when Squadrons is at its best, an enormous grin consumes me. The heart-pumping sensation of flying nose-first into a storm of enemy fire, throttling at half-speed, quickly taking a sharp turn, and barraging another player with laser blasts before watching as they burst into sharp metal debris, is incredibly visceral.
These electrifying moments make me long for a version of Squadrons with a lot more meat on its bones. Yes, Squadrons can be fun and exciting, but as a $39.99 package, it’s overpriced and underwhelming.
In Star Wars: Squadrons' campaign, the player jumps between a New Republic and Empire pilot, both of which are customizable. There are a total of 14 missions with unique characters and a cohesive story that takes place after the Battle of Endor from the original Star Wars trilogy.
The game begins with two of the game’s protagonists, Lindon Javes and Captain Kerrill, planning a mission to find the location of Rebellion refugees who are in hiding. When the player gets there, Lindon Javes betrays the empire and regroups with Rebellion fighters. Five years later, we see Captain Kerrill, still with the Empire, working against Lindon Javes’ complex plots.
Squadrons’ campaign deserves credit for having well-animated cinematics and solid character performances. Captain Kerrill is particularly compelling because she truly believes that the Rebellion is evil. Early on in the campaign, Lindon Javes refers to Rebellion fighters as refugees, but Kerrill makes sure to correct him and call them “traitors.” And when Captain Kerrill refers to the Rebellion being called the “New Republic,” she tells her squadron to not be fooled by their new name. Moments like these add an interesting bit of flair to her character, which is heightened by the quality of her performance and the game’s cinematics.
Unfortunately, the campaign is exhausting as a whole. A significant part of the experience involves sitting in a hangar and chatting with co-pilots. And even when the player is out in space, they’re mostly limited to following their squadron and listening to them babble on about the mission.
When the player is detached from their squadron, objectives are usually limited to sabotaging an enemy spacecraft or battling waves of enemy fighters. This is definitely fun, but few missions do anything particularly striking. One exception involves the player flying sideways around a giant communications outpost to drop bombs on coolant systems.
I would’ve preferred if Squadrons’ campaign had far less downtime. I never feel inspired to jump back into the story, as I know that nearly half of the experience comes down to chatting with co-pilots or being stuck by their side in the middle of a mission.
Squadrons boasts a complex and satisfying foundation for its flight mechanics. Players won’t just fly around in space shooting lasers at TIE Fighters; rather, they have to be selective about how they divert power to various ship functions. Powering up weapons increases how quickly lasers recharge. Diverting energy to your shields will overcharge them, doubling defensive capabilities. And if you’re being shot from a specific direction, certain ships can focus shield power to the front or back of the craft, which is useful if the player finds themself taking hits from a single direction.
When power is set to engines, a boost bar will begin charging, and when used, the ship's speed greatly increases. Players can even pull off a drift-move while boosting, but I’ve found it incredibly difficult to get right. If you’re using a TIE Fighter, you can instead overdrive power into your lasers or engine to enhance their efficiency, although it causes the other to take a significant hit.
Players also have to be careful about how fast or slow they’re going, as maneuverability is maximized when they’re at half-speed. Additionally, some ships have a self-healing ability, which, once used, restores about a third of the ship's health and then goes on a rather lengthy cooldown.
Additionally, if a missile is chasing a player, they can use a countermeasure ability or slow down to half-speed to try and dodge the missile's tracking range. The standard countermeasure ability will shoot small rockets at the missile and blow it up before it hits the player.
Squadrons also has quite an impressive selection of ship customization options. The New Republic and the Empire both have four ships: a fighter, bomber, interceptor and support. Players can customize the primary weapon, left and right auxiliary ability, countermeasures to deflect incoming attacks, the hull, shields and engine.
With this, the player can replace their missile with an assault shield, proton torpedoes or ion torpedoes, which are highly effective against enemy shields. There are also sensor jammers, ion bombs, Goliath missiles, seeker warheads, seeker mines, turret mines, tractor beams, targeting beacons and various ways to customize the defensive capabilities and maneuverability of your spacecraft.
As far as cosmetics go, you can edit a ship's paint job and decals. You can also add a figurine, holographic projection and hanging flair inside the cockpit.
Squadrons isn’t even close to as complex as a realistic flight simulator, but that’s not the point. It’s accessible and understandable for casual players while also remaining relatively engaging and thoughtful. Players will have to make on-the-fly decisions to survive and will need a decent understanding of the game’s controls to be successful in battle, but there’s not an overwhelming number of mechanics to manage all at once.
Squadrons' presentation is phenomenal. All six multiplayer locations boast different primary colors, and the vastness of space feels beautifully realized. The game is also willing to present more fantastical environments, as the player is rarely (if ever) traveling in a blank void.
Yavin Prime boasts gorgeous pastel orange clouds with green, red and light blue celestial bodies floating in the distance, which creates a clash of colors that pop out wonderfully. Esseles is far less colorful, but the concept of a space station sitting in the middle of a planet's asteroid-riddled ring is genius. It’s also quite exciting to battle enemies across the tight corners of the Empire’s surveillance station.
Additionally, each cockpit is drastically different. The TIE Fighter’s octagonal window is perhaps my favorite, as it doesn’t feel particularly cramped and an equal amount of viewing room is available on all sides.
Empire ships also make for a stark contrast against Rebel ships, which look dusty and beaten up, as if they were made using recycled parts. On the other hand, Empire ships are high-tech and well-kept. Players can even go into free-look mode to turn their heads around the cockpit to inspect every detail.
Not enough meat on these bones
Star Wars: Squadrons is lacking a substantial amount of content. Even at a less-than-normal $39.99 price point, it’s still a bit too high for how little is offered. Squadrons is primarily a multiplayer experience, yet it possesses only two online game modes: Dogfight and Fleet Battles.
Dogfight is a 5v5 team deathmatch where the first team to reach 30 kills wins the game. Fleet Battles are a bit more complicated with two teams of five pushing through each other's frontlines to destroy the opposite capital ships and progressing to the final flagship. The first team to destroy the enemy’s flagship wins the match.
Don’t get me wrong, both of these multiplayer modes are fun, but the lack of variety shocks me. To make matters worse, there are only six available maps: Yavin Prime, Esseles, Nadiri Dockyards, Sissubo, Galitan and the Zavian Abyss. Once again, these all look wonderful and are fun to battle across, but I would’ve loved to see more.
Squadrons could have benefited from adding maps that aren’t located in space. I would’ve loved to battle against TIE Fighters while dodging around the thick forest trees of Endor. This could have added a layer of strategy, as diving deep down into the forest is a risky move that could cause the player to smash into a tree, but it also serves as an excellent escape plan to evade missiles and laser blasts.
A location like this could lead to certain balancing issues and potentially cause problems with the flow of gameplay, but riskier ideas along these lines would have benefited the game.
Unfortunately, Creative Director Ian Frazier confirmed in an interview with UploadVR that Motive Studios has no plans to add content to Star Wars: Squadrons after its launch. Frazier commented specifically that they’re “not trying to treat the game as a live service” and the game is “entirely self-contained” as a product.
Broadly speaking, I respect the philosophy Motive Studios is putting forward, but in this context, it’s upsetting to think Squadrons will forever be stuck with only six multiplayer maps and two game modes.
Squadrons deserves recognition for putting effort into accessibility and inclusion. When a player launches the game for the first time, they’re greeted by an accessibility screen, which allows them to switch between different colorblind options, narrate menu elements, turn on text to speech, and mess with subtitle size and backgrounds.
Squadrons’ character creation also allows players to choose between “Body A” and “Body B” without ascribing sex-related terms to the characters. Additionally, any available face type can be put with every voice and either body type. This means the player can mix and match between every character creation option freely without being limited by gender norms.
Star Wars: Squadrons PC performance
Unfortunately, load times are wildly inconsistent. Sometimes I’ll get into a campaign mission in 10 to 15 seconds, but there are many moments where it takes two to three minutes before I can start playing. Even something as simple as the ship customization menu can put me in a loading screen for longer than 60 seconds.
In the Gameplay options menu, you can change the “Pilot Experience” option to Instruments Only. This means user interface elements will no longer appear and the player has to make judgments based on the physical indicators in front of them. This is an incredibly immersive way to play Star Wars: Squadrons, and I highly recommend it for anyone looking to dive deep into the experience.
Players can also edit which parts of the user interface they do and do not want to appear, allowing them to personalize their experience.
Surprisingly, Squadrons didn’t hinder me with any actual gameplay-related bugs, but many users have reported performance issues, including crashing, terrible performance in VR, and the game has been unplayable for some at 144hz. However, I experienced none of these.
Star Wars: Squadrons PC requirements
I tested Star Wars: Squadrons on my desktop, which is equipped with an Nvidia GeForce GTX 970 GPU with 4GB of VRAM and an Intel Core i7-6700K CPU. On Ultra graphics settings, I managed to get a consistent 90 to 100 frames per second. It rarely dipped below 90, but when it did, it still hovered around 85 frames per second. This is impressive considering my hardware is many generations old.
I then tested the game on an Asus ROG Zephyrus M GU502 with an Nvidia GeForce RTX 2070 Max-Q GPU with 8GB of VRAM, an Intel i7-10750H CPU and a 1TB SSD. My frames here were far less consistent, as I jumped anywhere between 110 to 150 fps. However, at no point did it drop below 110.
Display options include the ability to switch between fullscreen, borderless and windowed. However, resolution and refresh rate can only be changed when in fullscreen. V-sync can be turned on or off, along with film grain, High Dynamic Range and lens distortion. The resolution scale slider goes from 25% to 200% and the temporal anti-aliasing sharpness slider goes from 0% to 100%.
Graphical quality presets can be changed to Low, Medium, High or Ultra. This also applies to texture filtering, lighting quality, shadow quality, effects quality, volumetric quality, post-process quality, mesh quality and ambient occlusion. Screen space shadows can be turned on, off, or to only cast shadows from sunlight. And finally, anti-aliasing can be switched between TAA low and TAA high.
The non-VR minimum requirements to run Star Wars: Squadrons includes Windows 10, an Intel Core i5-6600K or AMD Ryzen 3 1300X CPU, 8GB of RAM, Nvidia GTX 660 or AMD Radeon HD 7850 GPU and 40GB of free storage space.
The non-VR recommended requirements include Windows 10, an Intel Core i7-7700K or AMD Ryzen 7 2700K CPU, 16GB of RAM, Nvidia GTX 1060 or AMD Radeon RX 480 GPU and 40GB of free storage space.
The recommended VR requirements include Windows 10, Intel Core i7-7700K or AMD Ryzen 7 2700K CPU, 16GB of RAM, Nvidia GTX 1070 or AMD Radeon RX 570 GPU and 40GB of free storage space.
Star Wars: Squadrons is an enjoyable flight combat game that leaves a lot to be desired. Its awesome mechanics never feel properly utilized, and at its best, the game lacks variety.
It’s even more disappointing that Motive Studios confirmed there are no plans to add content to Squadrons in the future. It’s difficult to recommend this multiplayer experience for $39.99, especially when it only has six maps and two online game modes.
However, if you’re a big fan of Star Wars, you can come into Squadrons expecting striking visuals, satisfying flight combat and an impressive number of ship customization options.